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Intertek and the failures of social auditing

When 130 Burmese migrant workers making clothes for Tesco in Thailand had enough of keeping quiet about the horrific exploitation at their workplace, they told social auditors Intertek the truth. What Intertek did betrayed the workers’ confidence and exposed them to intimidation, job losses and destitution. So we went to Intertek‘s AGM to seek some answers.

99-hour working week, no sickness or holiday pay, one day off a month, no access to your own passport, sexual harassment and abuse – these are just some of the horrific conditions Burmese migrant workers had to endure making clothes for Tesco at VK Garment in Thailand.  The VK Garment workers were fired in 2020 after they spoke out about the exploitation they were facing. Now they are suing both Intertek and Tesco and calling for justice. 

Intertek must act

The 130 VK Garment workers are bringing legal action against Intertek. Intertek must pay them what they are owed and come to the negotiation table with the workers’ lawyers to agree a settlement.

The former VK Garment workers sent a personal statement to the Intertek board

We were workers from VK Garment Factory. We started working in 2017. We received wages less than the official minimum wage. We had to work until 11pm, until midnight. Not only does this not comply with the labour laws in Thailand, but we did not receive any benefits under the laws. We only got one day off per month. The extremely hard work seriously impacted the health of some workers. 

The factory management opened Thai bank accounts for us. However, they withheld workers’ bank books and debit cards. 

Workers were taught what to answer to the audit team. The factory management threatened to dismiss us if we refused to do so. When we could no longer tolerate it, we informed the audit team of the working conditions. The audit team had promised to protect us, but they did not follow through. After the audit team left, the factory management scolded us and dismissed those who informed about the labour rights violations inside the factory. We believe that the audit team, Intertek, was responsible for getting us fired. 

We are blacklisted by management due to our actions to express the actual situation in the workplace. Now, we are filing lawsuits against the employers and against Tesco and Intertek while we are unemployed and struggling to survive. The period of the case is already more than three years and nine months. So, we would like to ask Intertek to settle the legal case against them and pay us so we can rebuild our lives.

We brought the workers to the Intertek AGM

Because of Intertek, the VK Garment workers are blacklisted and jobless. This means they can’t easily renew their immigration papers and so they cannot travel outside of Thailand. However, we were determined to bring them to the Intertek AGM so they can face the board.

One of us attended the meeting to deliver the workers’ statement and pressure Intertek into accepting responsibility for their dire situation. Meanwhile, we stood silently outside with the life-sized figures of the workers holding signs with their simple demand for justice to make sure it was their words being heard.

The AGM was a far cry from a robust excercise in corporate responsibility. Despite having a healthy turnover of £3 bn for 2023, the company faced no scrutiny. The workers’ words and their demand for justice was the only statement heard, and our question was the only attempt to bring accountability to Intertek.

The VK Garment Workers are not the only ones failed by auditors

Despite industry claims, the multi-billion dollar social auditing industry does not keep workers safe or protect their rights. There are many examples from the last decade that demonstrate how social auditing has failed to protect workers, and instead has been used by corporations to distance themselves from the responsibility of protecting workers’ rights and lives.

Read more about how social auditing fails to deliver accountability for corporate abuse in our latest briefing.